Allegations of Corruption Attempt in North Carolina Judicial Race

A candidate for a Superior Court judgeship in North Carolina was indicted this week on charges she attempted to make a $20,000 campaign contribution to the campaign of Davidson District Court Judge April Wood, to induce the judge’s husband to drop out of his race for the same Superior Court judgeship, according to news accounts.

The defendant is Wendy Joyce Terry, according to The Winston-Salem Journal and She resigned her job as a veteran prosecutor in Davidson County.

In a Greensboro News & Record blog, Doug Clark wrote, “I’ve expressed concerns — so have others — about the possible corrupting influence of campaign money in judicial elections. It’s a good thing this didn’t become a textbook example.”

Dinner Invitation Sparks Ethical Debate: JAS Weighs In

JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg
JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg

A fundraising dinner hosted by four New York Republican judicial candidates has attracted bipartisan criticism, according to a (Rochester) Democrat and Chronicle editorial. The invitation, sent to more than 3000 lawyers, listed 14 co-hosts, mostly spouses of sitting judges. The judges themselves are prohibited from hosting the dinner.

Bert Brandenburg, Executive Director of Justice at Stake, says the problem is judicial fundraising in general. “Money is becoming a cancer on the judiciary across the country,” he said “… Every judge who has a tough criminal case can’t help but look over the shoulder and think, ‘What’s the ad that’s going to be cut on this one?’”

“The explosion of money is forcing judges to become professional fundraisers, forcing them to raise big money from people who appear before them,” Brandenburg continued. “Even on a good day any system that combines money and justice is going to be messy and complicated at best.”


Remember Cole County, MO? Billionaire Gave $300,000, Article Says

MO_20203When a national organization, the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), pumped a six-figure sum in a lower-court election to defeat an incumbent judge, it captured national news media attention (see Gavel Grab). Now a local newspaper is following the money trail.

According to the Jefferson City (Mo.) News Tribune, “Missouri billionaire Rex Sinquefield gave $300,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee in October, an RSLC filing with the federal Internal Revenue Service shows.” The RSLC gave more than $304,000 to its Missouri political action committee, which spent $10,000 in support of a local legislative candidate and “most of the rest” in support of Brian Stumpe, a Republican who unsuccessfully challenged Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce, a Democrat.

The News Tribune reports, “Sinquefield’s $300,000 donation would appear to be a direct contribution to the RSLC, for its expenses in Missouri. But his donation was just under 55 percent of the total $548,349 the RSLC received from Missourians during the Oct. 1-Nov. 24 reporting period.” (more…)

N.M. Judge, Defeated in November, Wants Job Back

state-flag-new-mexicoIt’s an unusual twist for New Mexico’s hybrid merit system of selecting judges. A district court judge whom voters chose not to retain in November is seeking appointment by the governor to fill the vacancy created by his defeat.

District Judge Albert J. Mitchell Jr. of Tucumcari failed to win a retention (up-or-down) vote after late-hour campaigning by a newly established political group called the Committee for Law and Order, according to the Albuquerque Tribune.

A lawyer who largely funded the committee, Warren F. Frost, recently asked the state Supreme Court to bar a judicial screening commission from weighing Mitchell’s application to fill the judgeship by appointment. The high court rejected Frost’s request. (more…)

Judge Censured by Arkansas Commission for Campaign Conduct

A local Arkansas judge was censured by the state Judicial Disability and Discipline Commission for conduct in a campaign this year that the commission said violated rules of ethics for judges.

Circuit Judge Doug Martin of Fayetteville made “statements that were improperly prejudicial and harassing against his opponent and his opponent’s supporters,” the commission told him in a letter, according to Arkansas News.

The judge’s behavior “went beyond normal election rhetoric and gave the appearance of coercion whether intended or not,” the commission added.

Editorial: Would You Want a Heart Surgeon Elected at Polls?

VOTERA Frederick (Md.) News Post editorial says about electing judges: “Ask yourself this: Would you want heart surgery from a doctor who was elected by popular vote?”

Following a “dramatic” surprise in a Frederick County Circuit Court race, the editorial asserts that it’s time to reconsider the way such judges are picked in Maryland. A nonpartisan commission screens qualified candidates and gives recommendations to the governor, who makes an appointment. Circuit judges seek a new term by running in a nonpartisan, contested election. (more…)

Editorial: Cole County Voters Rejected ‘Climate of Fear’

When voters in Cole County, Mo. reelected an incumbent circuit court judge this month, many of them recognized a “dark money campaign was neither fair nor factual” on behalf of the challenger, a Jefferson City News Tribune editorial said.

Jefferson City is Missouri’s capital, and it is located in Cole County. The editorial was commenting on the race between challenger Brian Stumpe, supported with six-figure spending by the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), and incumbent Judge Pat Joyce. The RSLC is a national group based in Washington, D.C.

“We commend Cole County voters for rejecting a climate of fear and for vanquishing it with their votes. They have sent a message that walkers bringing dark money are not welcome here,” the editorial said. The editorial relied on Wikipedia for a (more…)

Despite Outside Funding for Foe, Judge Wins Cole County Race

MO_20203Despite a large injection of funding from a national political organization for her opponent, Cole County, Missouri Circuit Court Judge Pat Joyce defeated challenger Brian Stumpe on Tuesday.

The contest drew national media attention when the Republican State Leadership Committee supported prosecutor Stumpe. It backed him with nearly $300,000 in funding, including direct donation to the campaign and also for advertising critical of Judge Joyce.

The lower-court election took on outsized importance as the court’s jurisdiction includes challenges to the constitutionality of state laws and the language of ballot measures. Judge Joyce is a Democrat. Stumpe is a Republican. (more…)

Court Says Candidate for KY Judge Can Campaign as Republican

In Kentucky, U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar said a candidate for a state district judgeship can say in campaign materials that he’s a conservative Republican.

The ruling in the case of candidate Cameron Blau invalidated a judicial ethics canon barring judicial candidates from stumping for election as a member of a political party, but it was not clear, the Associated Press said, whether the court’s order applied to every judicial candidate.

It also was not clear whether the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission would appeal the new ruling. Jeffrey Mando, a lawyer representing the commission, said, “I think that the canon is important because it supports the (state’s) compelling interest in diminishing the reliance on political parties in the selection of judges and it promotes the nonpartisan nature of judicial elections in Kentucky.”

Weigh Merit Selection of Local Judges in Cole County: Editorial

Cash-gavel-soldAs a $200,000 injection of outside money from a national group (see Gavel Grab) changes the focus of a Cole County, Missouri election for Circuit Court, a St. Louis Post editorial calls for changing the way judges are chosen there.

Cole County voters would do well to follow the model of Greene County voters, who decided in 2008 to halt electing local judges and instead adopt the merit-based selection system that is used to choose local judges in St. Louis and Kansas City, and all state appellate judges, the editorial says.

“The administration of justice is too important to have questions about whether one donor, or a group of donors, can buy their own judicial outcomes by using their cash to tilt an election,” the editorial asserts. (more…)